Although he's still only 34, for several years Christian McBride has worn the mantle of not one but two great instrumental traditions, that of the Paul Chambers/Ray Brown double-bass style and also that of the super-articulated electric bass forever associated with Jaco Pastorius. His own playing lives up to the standards set by these great predecessors.
On double bass he is supple and fluent, his tone woody with a hint of rubber, the notes short on sustain but also trebly and clear, and his melodic phrasing provides ammunition against the old jokes about a bass solo being the only thing worse than a drum break.
In the rare moments when his band digs into a fast swing - his ensemble generally prefers more latin-flavoured grooves - he lays the foundation of a walking bass line with textbook certainty. He impresses even more on electric bass, tackling one of Pastorius's charged-up sambas with a fleetness to match the late bass legend himself.
McBride's band contains a pianist whose brilliance matches or even outshines the leader, the wayward genius Geoff Keezer. Keezer is instrumental in bringing the freshness necessary to turn the quartet's essentially standard bop material into something distinctive.
On their first night at the club, the mix of these sounds updated the band's opener, "I'm Coming Home", so that it retained the home cookin' feel typified by Jimmy Smith and Stanley Turrentine while sounding as though it came out of the New York of the 21st century rather than the Sixties. There were a couple of stunning solos from Keezer, McBride impressed as always, and saxophonist Ron Blake and drummer Terreon Gulley are also assured players. And yet the sum of the parts came across as less than its constituent members.
The crowd was not particularly responsive, but for the most part McBride's quartet came across as too laid-back, as though they were performing their regular set at some Greenwich Village club. But this was their first visit to Ronnie Scott's, and if the British audience was a little tepid, then it was the band's job to warm them up. London in November can be chilly, and we're not just talking about the weather here.Reuse content